By Joseph Mathai
Who remembers the good old days when we used to wake up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons? Those were good times and years later I doubt that I have outgrown them.
I still like to kick back with a hilarious episode of Scooby Doo mysteries, though am still not sure quite sure why the ghost always chases only after Shaggy and Scooby. However over the years I came to notice that all the cartoons and animated movies that I watched were all foreign, as interesting as they were as I got older I begun to wonder whether as Kenyans we could produce our own local content.
Fast forward 12 years later and my questions have been answered, Kenyans love local productions especially high quality ones. A great case study is the show that perhaps a lot of Politian’s cringe at the thought of making an appearance but Kenyans can’t get enough of it. The XYZ show .
The showwas perhaps one of the first animated puppet series to prove that there was indeed an audience for locally animated content. But what makes a show like XYZ so popular with audiences? At the same time what attracts audiences to say, for example American made animations? One could argue that the latter have great production value but at the heart of animated movies like Wreck it Ralph and Toy Story are great stories.
Kwame Nyongo a leading animation artist in the industry and creator of the award winning animated short film Legend Of Ngong Hills, early on in his career interned at Industrial Light and Magic the famed company behind the Star Wars franchise.
“Apart from the technicalities and procedures of visual effects creation, what I learned most at ILM is the power of storytelling. There were some films I witnessed that had incredible budgets and effects, but poor stories, and hence flopped. What I’m saying is that all the mind boggling effects are just a tool to tell the story, not vice versa.
So we need to put our attention on creating unique and compelling stories first and foremost; with that we can take the world by storm. Hollywood uses the film and animation platform to tell their own stories and sell American culture worldwide. We have unique cultures here in Africa and we can use animation to tell the world our stories.”
Can Kenyan and in general African stories translate to an international audience?Well the Tinga Tinga tales a co-production between Tiger Aspect Productions and locally based Homeboyz animation proved that there is potential to make animation within the country an exportable product. The production brought together over 50 local animators under one roof to produce a stunning animated series based on African tales. The series was commissioned by the BBC for its kid’s channel CBeebies and I have to admit the episodes I watched like “Why Cheetah has Tears” made me long for my younger days when I could have sat and watched these amazing cartoons all day.
Despite the success of the Tinga Tinga tales and growing demand for local content on the airwaves, it would seem like local animators have yet to find proper footing when it comes to producing animated series or movies for local television stations.
On the corporate side, local animators are behind some of the most innovative and visually stunning adverts this side of the “Savannah” . I especially like the Faiba adverts done by Fatboy Animation featuring cavemen trying to use the internet. This however has not stopped animators from venturing into film and producing longer format media.
With the rapid growth of the ICT sector and words like “Silicon Savannah” being coined to paint a picture of the growing number of tech savvy Kenyans, the major breakthroughs in the animation sector seem to be coming from the online world. Productions like Wageuzi, The Legend Of Ngong Hills and The Greedy Lords of the Jungle are showcasing the amazing talent that exists within the animation industry.
Unfortunately these are expensive and long ventures ...“The production process itself is also quite costly and time consuming, from storyboarding to animating to rendering, etc. I had done many short 30 to 45 second pieces up to this point mostly adverts so doing a 10 minute film was quite a challenge, as we were a team of 5 people working on this project together over a period of about 6 months.”
There is no doubt that the animation industry in Kenya has grown with a number animation studios coming up. There have been several initiatives such as the UNESCO Africa Animated Projects that took place between 2001 and 2004 with the aim of teaching animation to local artists from varying fields like graphic design and film making.
The Kenya Film Commission currently holds the annual Animation Expo that aims to bring together animations experts, investors, distributors, students’ and content buyers basically anyone with a stake in the animation industry. These have helped to push the industry along. Despite this the fact is that the animation scene like any other young industry will need a large pool of expertise and investment.
But what are the standards of education in the country?Opinions would seem to suggest that schools are not up to the task when it comes to telling the African story through animation. Henry, a student at a local collage studying animation is not convinced that the colleges are paying enough attention to stories.
“The few people I’ve met who graduated from my college, unfortunately can’t create a story, well even it’s less about the story - they can’t create characters. We look at animation first from the software and they looked good when I first got to college. But when I got an internship at local animation studio and I started doing story boards it hit me what people go through to create a whole animation piece.”
Kwame echoes the same sentiments:
“Educational standards are still quite wanting when it comes to the official animation training centres in Kenya. Unfortunately, they put little emphasis and value on the principles of animation and instead focus on the bells and whistles of the computer packages. This results in students that, for example, know how to download images from the internet and modify them in Photoshop, but are very weak in creating original content from scratch.”
It would seem that along with teaching students how to use the software that is used in animation, schools should also pay attention imparting knowledge on how to tell a story.
If the growth of ICT and the increasing number of television stations and satellite television providers is anything to go by, then this only means one thing an increasing number of potential audiences. It also means that local content is now more easily accessible around the globe through platforms like Buni Tv and YouTube. A casual glance at the XYZ and Kulahappy You Tube channels shows the massive popularity and potential for growth in the online world.
If we chart the growth of animation within the country it is great to see that the industry is growing albeit slowly. With more input from and support from the government, investors and broadcasters plus an increase in the number of skilled workforce in the market, then animation seems poised to become a leading industry that can deal with outsourced work and create local content for audiences. Personally I hope that we can develop our own unique style that will recognizable around the globe.
The Japanese have Manga why can’t Kenya have its own unique way of producing animation?
Small chat with Henry about the role of Animation universities and percived notions of students about animation.Animation